Roots Of Biodiversity


Alexandre Antonelli references the International Plant Names Index to identify specimens.
Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Our practice was born in Costa Rica, so we sometimes may appear partisan when it comes to celebrating the sciences related to biodiversity. Costa Rica has impressive credentials in that realm, especially relative to its size as a country. But we are very clear on the fact that it would take dozens of Costa Rica-sized biodiversity hotspots to match the scale of the Amazon region, and it is no surprise that studies like those of these scholars are carried out with Amazonian data:

The Amazon as engine of diverse life


“Most evolutionary research focuses on how new species form. But we want to understand how whole ecosystems evolve,” said Alexandre Antonelli.
 Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

A recent study says that many of the plants and animals that call Latin America home may have had their roots in the Amazon region.

The study, co-authored by Harvard Visiting Scholar Alexandre Antonelli and an international team of researchers, says that a dynamic process of colonization and speciation led to the formation of the American tropics, which is the most species-rich region on the planet. The study is described in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“We were astonished to detect so much movement across such different environments and over such large distances,” said Antonelli, the study’s lead author. “Up until now, these natural dispersal events were assumed to be quite rare. Our results show how crucial these events have been in the formation of tropical America’s unique and outstandingly rich biodiversity.” Continue reading

Collective Memory

Woodpecker specimens, Ornithology Department, Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology

When the oldest birding group in  the U.S. gets together woodpeckers and their historical significance among endangered bird species are often the order of the day.  The Nuttall Ornithology Club held one of their last meetings of 2011 at the Harvard Museum of Comparative Zoology, excitedly taking advantage of such a rich resource that includes specimens that have both ornithological and historical value.

The Nuttall club goes way beyond the garden variety birding group. Qualification for membership includes examples of ornithological scholarly publication, education, research and conservation efforts. Roger Tory Peterson, (of guidebook fame) is an example of the group’s “high bar”.


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